OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Western Heights Board of Education hired their own interim superintendent Thursday in defiance of stern warnings by the State Department of Education.
It was the latest development in a busy week that started with the State Board of Education taking over the district for one year to correct serious financial, educational, and employment problems.
The vote was to hire Kim Race, currently the assistant superintendent of the district, as the interim superintendent.
With their vote Thursday that followed the advice of their legal counsel, the Western Heights board insured that they would end up in court and their lawyers would gain more billable hours.
The one board member that voted against the motion said that she was “worried” about the legal fallout of what they had done.
And one parent said that it was another sign of “the good old boy system” at work in the district.
The lone vote against the motion was Briana Flatley, the newest member of the board.
Before the vote, she expressed reservations about the position the district would be putting itself in if it tried to appoint its own alternate interim superintendent.
Flatley is the newest member of the board, having won the seat in an election earlier in 2021. She earned 64% of the vote after a bruising race that pitted her against the sitting board member, Darrell Raper.
She talked to reporters after the meeting had adjourned.
“I am definitely worried that what just happened is illegal. I’m worried about what the state’s going to do tomorrow as far as the vote,” said Flatley. “We’re gonna see what happens next.”
“Good old boy system”
Free Press asked parent Amy Boone after the meeting adjourned if she thought the district’s legal counsel and others were taking the right course in their reaction to the state.
“This district is inundated in the good old boy system,” said Boone. “Everyone knows everyone. Everyone gets jobs because of everyone else. Our whole administration building is full of friends of someone that already works here.”
She was critical of Board President Robert Everman saying that he had been on the board there for “about 25 years” and that he and former Superintendent Mannix Barnes had known each other and worked in different organizations together for many years.
Barnes was a member of the Western Heights Board of Education when he was hired by that same board to become the Superintendent even though he had no education leadership in his work history.
The last two years have been fraught with staff and parent conflicts and had resulted in an exodus of some of the district’s most experienced teachers. And, parents have been transferring their children out of the district in significant numbers.
Even though the district was on probation, the board voted at the end of June to renew Barnes’ contract for three more years and give him a $25,000 “performance” bonus. The liability to the taxpayers of Oklahoma for that one move alone comes in at around $1 million dollars.
Issue of authority
Some news reports have said that the district now has two superintendents but there can only be one that is legal.
The issue is whether the state Board of Education has the legal authority to take over the district at the level of appointing an interim superintendent for the district.
The State Board of Education voted Monday to continue the school district’s probation for one year and to intervene directly in the district’s operations.
An interim superintendent, Monty Guthrie was appointed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister mid-week. Guthrie is currently in the administration at the State Department of Education.
The position of the State Board of Education in taking over Western Heights for a year is to correct problems with financial operations involving millions in state taxpayer dollars and mismanagement of the district.
State Auditor and Inspector Cyndi Byrd will do a forensic audit of the financial operations of the district starting within a few days. There is no question about her authority to do the audit which could lead to civil and criminal charges for former district administrators.
Lawyer urges defiance
Western Heights’ legal counsel, Jerry Colclazier, publicly took the position Thursday night before the vote that there are no statutes that allow the State Board of Education to appoint an interim superintendent.
Emphasizing that Western Heights is an “independent school district,” he encouraged the board members to not be concerned about the warnings that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister had sent to the district earlier in the week.
But, the authority that the State Board of Education has over local school districts has been established in the Legislature and in the courts for over 100 years of Oklahoma history.
And, the elected position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction was established by Article Six of the original Oklahoma Constitution in 1907.
Since public school districts depend on state taxpayers for their primary funding for operations, the state claims the right to audit and discipline school districts that violate laws and rules for fully transparent and public operations.
Colclazier has been the legal counsel for Western Heights for well over a decade.
He has a history of encouraging that district’s board to be legally combative and take the State Department of Education to court.
In fact, Colclazier has a long history of being at serious odds with the State of Oklahoma. After lengthy proceedings for “oppression in office” and other judicial violations, he was removed as a district judge in Seminole County in 2002 and barred from ever being a judge in the state again.
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Last Updated July 16, 2021, 10:31 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor